At times, it seems that expenses for one’s children are never ending. From extracurricular activities to camp and everything in between, expenses for one’s children seem to pop up on a daily basis. This can be especially apparent for divorced parents, as they may constantly have to ask for reimbursement for these expenses from the other parent, which can create awkwardness in an already delicate relationship. Most of the time these expenses have to be paid before a child can participate in a given activity. In that situation, the parents (hopefully) have already agreed on the child’s participation and how the expenses will be divided. But what happens if a child participates in something for which payment is not due until after the fact, and then a parent (or both parents) do not want to pay?
Under Georgia law, each parent is liable to third parties “for the board and support and for all necessaries furnished to or for the benefit of the parties’ children.” O.C.G.A. § 19-6-13. This liability will remain until someone voluntarily pays the amount owed for board, support or other necessaries, or until there is a court order providing for payment or otherwise. Id.
Consider a situation where a child has a condition that requires a long-term hospital stay. Consider further that insurance covers part of the expenses associated with this stay, but not all of them. The divorced parents disagree about who should be responsible for these out of pocket expenses and, as a result, the hospital bill does not get paid. It might be a situation where the divorce decree did not allocate expenses such as these, or it may be a situation where the decree did allocate the costs to one parent, but that parent refuses to pay. According to the Georgia law cited above, the hospital can sue both parents for the amount owed. If the divorce decree specifies how these expenses are to be allocated and one parent is just being difficult, that parent could additionally be held in contempt of the divorce decree. While this will not prevent the other parent from being dragged into the lawsuit by the hospital, he/she may have some solace knowing that, in the end, the other parent will get what he/she deserves.
To prevent a situation such as this, make sure the child support language in your divorce decree is very thorough to cover any expected and unexpected expenses related to the children. If a specific expense is not addressed in the decree, try to work it out with your ex ahead of time so you can avoid being dragged into court.